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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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Dante compares the salute of the devils to their captain with the behavior of soldiers in varying circumstances. He has never seen such a surprising way of saluting before the soldiers set off on a mission. Dante is philosophical in accepting the devilish escort as they journey further in Hell.

Curious about the sinners in this bolgia (fifth) Dante keeps his eyes trained on the pitch. The sinners rise occasionally to the surface to get some relief from the boiling pitch. Just as soon as they appear, they dive back inside. They expose only their face above the water and dive in as soon as they see Barbariccia approaching. Dante compares their behavior in the pitch to that of Dolphins at sea and frogs in a pond. One of the sinners, unable to disappear in time, is caught hold of by Graffiacanís hook. Graffiacan holds him up in the air and offers him to Rubicante, to rip the sinnerís skin off with his (Rubicanteís) claws. Prodded by the pilgrim Virgil approaches the sinner. The latter reveals himself to be a citizen of Navarre. Son of a spendthrift he eventually finds himself serving king Thibault. In the household of the king he learnt the corrupt art of grafting and is now paying for his sins Ciriatto, a devil with two tusks, rips the sinner open with one of these. Barbariccia holds the sinner away from the other devils and asks Virgil if he wants to question the shade anymore before the others rip him apart completely. Virgil asks him if there are any Italians in the pitch. The sinner says that there is one such man and that he was in conversation with him not long ago. The Italian has lived below and is safe from the cruelty of the devils.

The other devils get restless and Libicocco and Draghignazzo start attacking the sinner. Barbariccia stops them and Virgil continues with his questioning. The sinner reveals the name of the Italian he is Cromita, a friar from Gallura. He took money from his Lordís enemies and set them free (Gromita) indulges in grafting on a big scale, the Navarrese reveals. Gromita now spends his time with Michele Zanche of logodoro talking about Sardinia. Afraid of a devil leering at him menacingly the Navarrese shuts up. Noticing this Barbariccia warns Farfarello away from the sinner.

The Navarrese says that he can bring other souls to the surface if the Malebranche release him and then hide themselves. At his whistle, to show that it is safe to rise, the other souls will come to the surface. Cagnazzo mistrusts this explanation as an excuse for escape. The Navarrese admits he is tricky but that he will use this to get the others to rise and be caught by the devils. Alichin, positive he can catch the sinner if he tries to jump, agrees to the proposition. So the devils move towards a ledge to hide the first one to do so is Cagnazzo who had first raised objection to this scheme. Dante especially points out this fact to the readersí attention. As soon as the devilsí are shamed by thus being outwitted. But the most upset of the lot is Alichin, who had agreed to this scheme. He flies after the sinner but is too late, the sinner prompted by terror soon disappears in the pitch. He flies up like a falcon who has been unsuccessful in catching a duck that lives in water and disappears. Calcabrina, waiting for a chance to pick a quarrel, attacks Alichin when the sinner escapes. They claw at each other, suspended above the pitch. Soon both fall in the hot depths below. The heat makes them release each other but they are unable to fly out because the tar has rendered their wings sticky and heavy. Barbariccia sends four devils with their hooks to their rescue. With these hooks they try to help the two devils, now seared by the hot tar, out of the pitch. While the devils are thus engaged, the two poets move on.


At the start of this Canto, Dante still hasnít gotten over his amazement at the farcical salute that the Malebranche offer their captain Malaccoda (at the end of canto XXI). He compares this with all the other experiences he has witnessed concerning armed forces and their behavior. For the comparison he draws from his own presence at the battle of Campaldino. Where the Aretines are defeated by the Florentines and Luccan troops.

He accepts his devilish escort in a mock - philosophical manner. His words "But in the tavern" are light and flippant. The flippancy is in keeping with the playful tone characteristic of Canto XXI and Canto XII. In keeping with this often grotesquely funny tone he uses animal imagery to describe the sinners and the devils. He describes their antics using animal imagery where the predatory devils are compared to falcons and hawks. And their victims (the sinners) are compared to dolphins, frogs, an otter, a mouse and a wild duck.

One of the sinners is captured by the devils and this gives Virgil a chance to question him. Even while the questioning is going on the devils in their thirst for blood keep attacking their cornered prey. The plight of the sinner and the piteous picture presented by his helplessness brings strongly to mind the marauders and the torments of this infernal place. Being a sinner means suffering and the implicit message is, that moral weakness or greed and corruption (grafting) call upon a sinner to pay a heavy penalty. It should make the readers wonder if it is indeed worth it.

The sinner is a native of Navarre. Early commentators believed him to be a man by the name of Ciampolo who first served a Spanish nobleman and then worked in the court of Thibault II. He took advantage of his position in the court and turned to barratry. Thibault II was Count of Chanpage and later King of Navarre during the mid-thirteenth century.

Virgil wishes to speak to Italians and the Navarrese names "Cromita the friar from Gallura" who resides in the pitch. Fra Cromita was a Sardinian Friar, chancellor to Nino Visconti, Governor of Pisa. From 1275 to 1296 Nino Visconti was a judge of Gallura, one of the 4 districts into which Sardinia was divided in the 13 th century. Fra Cromita took advantage of his position and the trust Visconti placed in him to sell public offices. When his corruption was discovered by Visconti, Era Cromita was hanged. Now, in Hill Cromita spends his time engaged in conversation with Michele Zante. Zante is believed to have been the governor of Logodoro, one of the 4 districts into which Sardinia was divided in 4 districts into which Sardinia was divided in the 13 century. The two men spend their time taking about Sardinia.

The Navarrese realizes the danger of the position he is in and his tricky mind is bent on escape. He realizes that he can use Virgilís influence with Basbariccia to achieve this end. Knowing Virgilís desire to talk to an Italian he offers to bring some to them. He proposes to do this by tricking them to come up to the surface, blowing a whistle (their signal) to show that the devils have gone and all is safe. For this the devils must hide otherwise the sinners will not rise to the surface.

Cagnazzo shrewdly deduces that this plan is a trick of the Navarrese to escape the navarrese, shrewder still, admits he is tricky but that he will use his trickery to draw his friends out of the pitch. An intelligent reader will quickly detect that here he is lying to the devils Alichin agrees to his proposal confident of catching him if he tries to escape. Thus all the devils turn away to hide. The first one to do so is Cagnazzo who has refused to believe Ciampolo right from the start. Dante finds his acquiescence to the scheme quite suspicious and he draws the readers attention to it by saying directly to the reader attention to it by saying directly to the reader, "Now listen, reader" The predictable happens and Ciampolo manages to escape. The angry Alichin is unable to step him. Calcabrina eager to take advantage of this failure attacks Alichin. In fact Calcabrina had been biding his time for this very purpose. The two devils grappling over the pitch fall in and have to be rescued by the other devils. This gives the two poets an opportunity to escape unnoticed.

The whole scene is full of fraud and lies. He is being honest about his life and his trickery. This gives substance to his deceitful proposal to the devils. His expertise here, no doubt, comes from a lifetime of practicing barratry. The devils themselves have doubtful intentions, as becomes clear by Calcabrinaís actions. The other devils had agreed to Alichinoís proposal only because it would give them an opportunity to fight with him. It is this deceitfulness that Dante refers to as a "game thatís strange." It must be pointed out that in Ciampolo, for the first time in "Inferno" the reader has an opportunity to witness a sinner actually performing his sin. In all, with the fraud and the comic entanglement of the Malebranche this Canto provides the reader with comic relief.

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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes


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